Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Four Approaches to Evengelism, Part three

Part three:  How to Share Your Faith Even If You’re Timid

In my last blog, I pointed out that many Christians are uncomfortable sharing their faith. It may be they’re afraid of being asked questions they can’t answer (the solution here is to study apologetics). Others are afraid of being ridiculed—and that happens sometimes, although most people are interested in spiritual things. Some Christians are simply intimidated because they think sharing the Gospel is too confrontational. Others are just shy—it’s too much like public speaking. But there is one approach to evangelism that every single Christian can apply. In fact every single Christian should apply it. And believe it or not, this evangelistic “tactic” probably accounts for more people becoming Christians than any other avenue of evangelism. It played an important role in my own conversion.

I’m speaking about lifestyle evangelism, which plays out in two ways. First, it’s living out our Christian faith with integrity before non-Christians, so they can witness Christians modeling a Christian lifestyle (e.g. Mt 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12). Second, its building relationships with non-Christians, which will inevitably provide opportunities for sharing the Gospel (e.g. John 13:35; Col. 4:5-6). It’s like the old maxim, “your actions speak louder than your words.” Because Christians can experience a profound sense of peace during life's many crises, and because we have the power of God to deal with suffering and to resist sin, unbelievers can observe this and desire a similar relationship with Christ. Living out our faith among skeptics and critics can also  create an atmosphere in which we have “earned” the right to explain how and why we know what we believe (apologetics).

As Christians, we are always on stage before unbelievers. Certainly, they sometimes look for opportunities to point out our failures and to criticize us. Paul warns about this in 2 Tim. 3:12: "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." But non-Christians are also aware of how we respond to life's challenges. This can make a tremendous impact on unbelievers. If we demonstrate through our lifestyles that we possess an inner strength and peace of mind the world can't offer, Christianity can become extremely appealing to people who have never been responsive to direct witnessing or apologetics.

The principle is this. The life a Christian lives in the presence of unbelievers acts as a preview to what they see themselves becoming if they become a Christian. If we are legalistic and self-righteous, or condemning and gossipy, non-Christians will assume they were right along to reject Christianity. We’re just like everyone else. Even worse, if we live a life more in harmony with the secular world than with the Kingdom of God, unbelievers will judge all Christians as hypocrites. This is one of the major reasons unbelievers give for not wanting to become a Christian. I think it’s telling that Jesus was kind, patient, and loving to every variety of sinner He encountered—except one: religious hypocrites. In Matthew twenty-three, Jesus called them “blind guides,” “white-washed tombs,” and “brood of vipers.” He told them they deserved condemnation and warned them of the consequences of hell.        

In Sum, many unbelievers will choose to accept or reject Christianity on the basis of what they see in us—not what they hear. Even if we are awkward or uncomfortable sharing our faith, it is often what unbelievers observe and our relationships with them that draws them to Christ. When our lives reflect Jesus Christ, it’s a powerful and effective non-verbal communication of the Gospel.      

In my next blog article on the Four Approaches of Evangelism, we’ll get into the meat-and-potatoes of this study. We’ll begin by considering how we can apply “law” as a tool for evangelism and apologetics. That is, help unbelievers see that they are sinners in need of a Savior.

*  This and the other blog articles in this series are copyrighted material and may not be reproduced electronically or in print. But feel free to link this blog to your own website, personal email list, or Facebook friends and groups. I explore the topic of this series of articles more fully in my book Engaging the Closed Minded; Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever (Kregel Publications).

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Four Approaches to Evangelism *

Part two:  Taking the Mystery out of the Gospel

Let’s face it—many Christians are uncomfortable sharing their faith. Sometimes it’s because they’re afraid of being asked questions they can’t answer. (The solution here is to study apologetics.) Others are afraid of ridicule—and that will happen sometimes. Some are simply embarrassed or intimidated; it’s too much like confrontation. Some are simply too shy—it’s a personality thing. Well, perhaps this blog series will help to overcome some these apprehensions.

Of the four approaches to evangelism I’ll be writing about, the first if proclamation—proclaiming the “Gospel.” I know what follows is Evangelism 101 for most Christians, and that you’ll be familiar with the verses I quote. Actually, my focus here is not on how to share Gospel, but how to explain it in a way non-Christians will understand, and in a fashion that will give new Christians a concise explanation. So, let’s begin by defining Gospel.

Theologically, it’s the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, especially concerning Jesus as the Messiah. The Gospel reveals that Jesus is God in human flesh (Phil 2:6-8); He came to earth to offer salvation to sinful humanity through His sacrificial death for our sins on the cross (called the “atonement”); He promised to return a second time at the end of this present age to set up an eternal kingdom in a “new heaven and earth” (Rev 21:1); and He will give eternal life in glorified resurrected bodies to everyone who has accepted Him as their Lord and Savior.

To put it succinctly and in less theological terms, the Gospel is what God has done for us that we can’t do for ourselves, because we are unable to be “good enough” to earn salvation through our own behavior. In other words, no one can live up to the standards of righteousness and holiness that God expects of people who wish to spend eternity with Him in heaven (Rom 3:23; Rv 21:3). Not only do all of us do things our conscious tells us are wrong, but we also think things (Mt 5:28), and say things (Mk 16:17-18) God condemns. Indeed, we often don’t even do the things our conscious tell us we should be doing. This too is sin in God’s eyes (Jas 4:17). (By the way, we can generally trust our conscious when it convicts us because it reflects God’s universal moral code all people share—see Rom 2:14-15.)

So, the Bible makes it plain there is no wiggle room in terms of earning salvation. It can’t be done. Everyone sins and even one sin can bring us under judgment (Jas 2:10). Both the Old and New Testaments teach this (1 Kgs 8:46; Ro 3:23). They also teach that every human being will one day stand before God and give an account of their lives. This includes both Christians (2 Cor 5:10) as well as non-Christians (Rv 20:11-12). The “good news” for Christians is that this judgment is not one of condemnation but of awards for our service to God (1 Tm 4:8). This is not true for unbelievers. They will experience eternal separation from God and everything good and true and beautiful forever (Rv. 20:11-15).

The bottom line is this. If salvation is attainable at all, God must take the initiative by reaching out to us even though we are sinners.  And He did this (Ro 5:8). And amazingly, if we accept His forgiveness and receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, He does not hold us accountable for our sin (Rom 8:1). This is what Christians mean when they say we are “saved by grace” (see Eph 8-9). We don’t earn it; it’s a gift—but a gift we must be willing to accept on God’s terms. Which is that Jesus Christ is the only way that God chose to save us through grace (Acts 4:12). Jesus said this Himself in John 14:6.

So, how is someone saved? For such an extraordinary, life-transforming, and even mysterious event, it’s really quite simple. Non-Christians must hear and believe the Gospel and then receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior (Rom 10:9-14). This is where proclamation comes into play. As Paul pointed out in Romans 10:14, unbelievers can’t hear the Gospel unless we tell them about it. I’m not saying everyone should go door-to-door or stand on a street corner passing out tracts on the Four Spiritual Laws. But I am saying that every Christian has the responsibility to be prepared to share the Gospel, and that God will provide those opportunities if we’re attuned to them (Col 4:5). I also believe, in spite of the apprehensions mentioned above, every Christians can share the Gospel—even if it means not saying a word! I’ll explain this in my next blog.

*  This and the other blog articles in this series are copyrighted material and may not be reproduced electronically or in print. But feel free to link this blog to your own website, personal email list, or Facebook friends and groups. I explore the topic of this series of articles more fully in my book Engaging the Closed Minded; Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever (Kregel Publications).

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Four Approaches to Evangelism *

Part One:  Does This Sound Like Good Evangelism?
Many Christians consider sharing their faith as going something like this:  First, give your personal testimony; second, share the plan of salvation, such as the “Four Spiritual Law” or the “Roman Road to Salvation;” and third—if the unbeliever doesn’t respond to the Gospel—threaten him or her with eternal damnation!  Once this formula has been executed, these Christians feel they’ve done their duty in evangelism.

Now, I’m not actually criticizing this approach, it has its merits. Although I do caution you to use step three only when appropriate. In a later article I’ll explain when “threatening with damnation” is acceptable and how to apply it as an apologetic strategy. For now, however, I want to make two additional points relevant to it this formula.

First, when it comes to evangelism, many Christians have tunnel vision. They assume that almost all unbelievers reject Christianity for the same reason—moral reasons. In other words, they imagine that unbelievers reject Christianity because they are unwilling to make the lifestyle changes they assume they will have to make if they become Christians. The second assumption is that this same three-step evangelistic approach can be applied to every unbeliever and under any circumstance. Although the first assumption is true in many instances (but certainly not always), the second, as often as not, will get you nowhere and likely shut the door to further dialogue.

In terms of apologetics, some apologists believe that every unbeliever harbors intellectual obstacles to Christianity, which must be overcome before they’ll consider the Gospel. Thus, they sometimes create issues themselves by starting witnessing encounters with an apologetic approach (e.g. to a biology teacher: “I bet you reject Christianity because you think Christians are anti-science! Well, let me explain to you  . . . .”

Seasoned apologists know that in most cases we let the unbeliever raise the issues—we don’t create them. The fact is unbelievers can have a variety of reasons for rejecting Jesus Christ. It may well be for intellectual or moral reasons, but it can also be for emotional, experiential, spiritual (they are entrenched in another religion), or some other reason.  Bottom line, apologetics is not for everyone, and it’s essential that we know when to use it and when to avoid it—and what kind of people best respond to apologetics. To answer this question, in a later article I’ll borrow a teaching from Dr. John Warwick Montgomery (who wrote the preface to my book on which this series is based).

So, in the follow five or six (or ?) blog articles in this new series, I will explore the four major approaches to evangelism. Altogether, they provide a witnessing strategy for every unbeliever you will encounter—regardless of their beliefs or reasons for rejecting Christianity. These four approaches are: Lifestyle, proclamation, Law, and apologetics.

I hope you’ll share this series with people who struggle with sharing their faith.

*  This and the other blog articles in this series are copyrighted material and may not be reproduced electronically or in print. But feel free to link this blog to your own website, personal email list, or Facebook friends and groups. I explore the topic of this series of articles more fully in my book Engaging the Closed Minded; Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever (Kregel Publications).